Watch me honey, watch, are you watchin’? “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”
State of the program: As a college football archon, Tennessee’s ten losses in the past two seasons have left the puke-orange nation a little perturbed. Florida pouring Gatorade in the wounds by winning the national championship sure doesn’t help. Still, their recent pedestrian records can be deceiving. The Vols methodically choked away the Florida game last year, and had LSU beat before folding in the closing minute to JaMarcus and Co. Even with a lifeless offense, UT’s disease has been more “misfortune” than “outmatched.” Say what you will about the discipline: lack thereof (more jail time than Henry Earl), the Vols are still as rich a talent factory as anyone else in the conference. Said talent alone is enough to sustain a level of optimism amongst the faithful, even if they’re ready for their Humpty-Dumpty head coach to “have a great fall” off ol’ Rocky Top.
So you’re saying there’s a chance: Offensive Coordinator David Cutcliffe knows his quarterbacks. So it was no surprise to see a solid rebound effort out of QB Erik Ainge. What was surprising however, was the sudden pass-heavy play calling from the Vols, who’ve traditionally been a play off the run team. I’d expect to see a revert back to the ground game this season, with So. speedster LaMarkus Coker leading the charge…as soon as he’s done suspending, of course. Splitting the carries with Coker is Jr. bruiser Arian Foster, who can move piles like his namesake moved the Trinitarian councilmen at Constantinople (a little Dennis Miller for ya). And speed. There’s still plenty of it on both sides of the ball, led by All-American safety Jonathan Hefney.
Hey, what was all that one and a million talk: A portion of Ainge’s resurgence last season was, you have to believe, due to a stellar crop of pass catchers. They’re all gone however, and the Vols are absent a proven #1 target since I can remember (D-Wayne?) Defensively, coordinator John Chavis has been flirting with a 3-4 to compensate for the flock of newcomers up the middle and on the corners. In short, there’s a lot of new faces in starting roles on both sides of the ball, and that schedule, oh my, that schedule…
Schedule: …absolutely brutal. The Vols begin the campaign with a trip to Berkley to take on a Cal team assured a second place finish in the Pac-10 and hell-bent on revenge after being trounced like Jerry Quarry in Neyland last year. Sandwiched between Cal and a trip to The Swamp on 9/15 is a very good Southern Miss team, who could easily be this season’s Air Force. Getting SC and Arkansas at home helps, but traveling to Tuscaloosa and Lexington are no longer assured wins.
Jim Bob Cooter, now an assistant. Everybody wins
Giving back to the community: Walk-on Justin Jackson was dismissed from the team after being busted for wheelin’, what else, crack cocaine. Meanwhile, Michael Irvin was recently inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Shazam!
In Conclusion: There’s a chance Tennessee begins the season 1-2 and still survives atop the wicked SEC East. Ainge is a player, and should benefit from an improved scheme and stellar running game, and what his WR’s lack in experience is hedged by latent athleticism; the same can be said on the other side of the ball. The influxes of newcomers don’t have the luxury of getting their feet wet, but on paper, they’re capable. Chavis and Cutcliffe are as good as anyone in the biz, so don’t be surprised to see the Vols atop the SEC when all is said and done. It will all depend on how they handle the possible early season adversity, which could trigger a downward spiral if the locker room gets away from donut-necked Phil.